Incredibly Cheap Eats — Street Tamales


A tale of two tamales, one red and one green (click to explode)

Not sure how when it happened, but East Harlem’s 116th Street has become of paradise of Latin street vending. At $2 for two, the tamale meal you see above constitutes one of the city’s most formidable Incredibly Cheap Eats. Purchased between 3rd and Lexingon Avenues, the tamales come wrapped in corn husks and stuffed with silky chicken; the one at the top features a punchy salsa verde based on tomatillos and fresh green chiles, while the bottom is made with dried red chiles, and is consequently more spicy.

On the north side of the street midblock, you’ll find two or three ladies selling tamales, and assorted other Mexican snacks. Their vending stations are often elaborate affairs employing two or three other people besides the tamale lady, and vending some viands far less familiar than the tamales. At one station, a young man and woman had a tin-windproofing contraption set up around a small charcoal hibachi; they seemed to be grilling chorizo for tacos that also came stuffed with rice, which may originate in Morelos.

Mystery snack of the day

But the most unusual item seen that day was a masa pancake folded into a flat triangle over a filling of chile-flecked refried beans, which came with either red or green sauces, that the short vendor, folded into her blanket and speaking little English or Spanish, applied to the construction from a little plastic cup. She accepted a dollar as payment, but I could tell from the glint in her eye that she probably usually sold this snack for less. It was wonderful, and I’ve never quite seen anything like it before. The woman nodded when I referred to it as a pupusa, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t from Central America. More like Peru. Does anyone know what this snack is called and where it comes from?


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